Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Baptized Vessels for Righteousness

“For the death that [Christ] died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin rein in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Rom 6:10-14)

Blessing comes from love and obedience...

I don't know about you but all this talk of the Ashley Madison web hack has my attention especially since a lot of influential people, especially Christians, have been publically exposed in their sins and temptations. A lot of people are raising their eyebrows in surprise. Physicists speak of the "butterfly effect," the degree to which small actions produce large consequences. The same is true spiritually. People (most importantly Christ Jesus) watch you respond to opportunities and challenges. They see the way you react (or act) in many different situations; treat those who can help you and those who cannot; the way you and I handle temptation, etc. The way you live affects not only you but the world – positively and negatively. 

There’s no doubt that our bodies act like temptation magnets. We fall into weakness so many times. Yes, that’s the case for all of us and Paul reminds us that the choices we make not only affect us but our Savior and others. Paul offers Gospel saturated perspective: "What should we say then? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may multiply? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?"

Let us stay aware, "...that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death..." and "...we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father so we too may walk in a new way of life." (Romans 6:1-4)

I was reminded one Sunday (Aug 30) to remember Christ Jesus and how He was obedient to God, and how He was subjected to terrible suffering for our redemption and restoration. As a Christian, consider Christ Jesus today...seriously, deeply, and forever...and follow Him. Jesus says in John 15, to "abide in Him" the same way a branch is attached to a vine. The closer you draw to Jesus, the closer He draws to you in very real ways. Place your trust in Jesus Christ,  and allow him to  affect your world for His glory.

May your 2016 be blessed!

Monday, December 21, 2015

5 Ways Leaders Can Make Discipleship "Normal"

by Jeff Vanderstelt

It's one thing to believe and agree with the fullness of the Scriptures and Gospel.  It's another to behave as we believe.  Jeff Vaderstelt brings about a challenging way in which Christians must live true to Christ's Commission, beyond mere agreement, but in full action.

Jesus commanded us to make disciples who make disciples. We can make disciples formally and informally. In formal discipleship you need to consider all that you want people to:

Know — key doctrines all people should know

Believe — truths that motivate and transform your identity and behavior

Do — the activities that the gospel leads us to practice

Informal discipleship, in conjunction with formal discipleship is crucial in making followers of Jesus who both hear and obey. Here are 5 ways to make disciples informally:

1. Encourage a disciplemaking culture.

God commanded through Moses (Deuteronomy 6) and Jesus commanded the disciples (Matt. 28:18-20) to develop a disciple-making culture where all of life becomes the platform for disciple-making.
Seven questions to determine if you have a disciplemaking culture:
       Are the few doing the ministry for the many? Or are the few equipping the many for the ministry?
       Do we spend the majority of our time equipping, training and developing leaders?
       Is it apparent that every member is to be a full-time minister in your church?
       Do new believers get called and sent into the mission upon conversion?
       Do you celebrate those who leave to start new works?
       Is there shared leadership within the local body?
       Do you intentionally create vacuums for other leaders to fill?

2. Make your life visible and accessible to others.

To be an example for the flock (1 Peter 5:1-3), others need to see our lives as an observable example of gospel ministry, mission and ordinary life. We also need to observe their lives – to see if they are faithful (2 Timothy 2:2). The areas we need to observe one another includes marriage, family, management of our household, love of neighbors, our leadership, our training, and our discipling, as well as conflict management, exercise, prayer and how we use money.

3. Live with your leaders in community.

Jesus said the greatest apologetic for the gospel is our love for one another (John 13:31-45). We practice the “one anothers” of scripture in community. If you’re not developing people to love one another, you’re not making disciples. And you will not make disciples who love one another if they’re not in consistent community where others are building them up.

4. Live as servants together.

Ephesians 4:11-16 tells us that God gives some to equip the saints for ministry, and that the means by which we grow up into maturity is when each part is doing its work. We will not grow up if we are not all ministering. We grow up as we build up the body and serve together.

5. Make sure your leaders live on Mission.
Living life on mission requires getting in the game. Is your missional living more of a chalk-talk (sermons and teaching) or an actual game? Is it just a scrimmage among other Christians or are we actually engaging the lost? If we are not in the game of mission, we will not become disciples, but rather just a spiritual formation group.

Source: http://www.vergenetwork.org/2015/12/14/5-ways-leaders-make-discipleship-normal/

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Serve and Respect the Elder Saints

Great Idea by Josh Etter.

I have so many great memories of my grandfather (Gugga) and grandmother (Guku/Mama).  My Grandparents impacted me in huge ways and their influence is like nuclear energy.  In February I finally got the chance to visit them after about ten years of being away.  I was so refreshed and inspired by their godliness, wisdom, and love.  I even had a chance to drive my Gugga to the doctor’s for his monthly check-up.  Our time together overwhelmed me with such great joy and my cup is still overflowing.

You know what, I can say the same for the many “elders” in my church through the years.  I pray that my younger, same-aged, and slightly older peers experience the same.  It is so awesome, in words inexpressible, to have someone older to lovingly walk alongside with in life.  But as much as they give to us, we should also give back to them.  It’s an amazing paradox.

Charles Spurgeon writes:
Some are like the sun going down in the west; they will be gone soon. Serve them, dear brethren. You that are in health and vigour, comfort them, strengthen them, and help them all you can. Be a joy to that dear old man, who has been spared to you even beyond the allotted threescore years and ten, and praise God for the grace that has upheld him through his long pilgrimage. Look on his grey hairs as a crown of glory; make his descent to the grave as easy as you can. He once was as young as you are; he once had the vigour that you have. Console him, cheer him, give him the respect that is due to his many years. Do not let him feel that you consider him an old fogey who lingers, superfluous, on the stage; but learn from his experience, imitate his perseverance, and ask God to be with you in your old age, as he is with him.
Excerpted from Charles Spurgeon's Own FuneralSermon.

Original Source: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/serve-and-respect-the-elder-saints

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

I Needed A Mentor

How Could I Invest In Others If Nobody Was Investing In Me?
By Mario Zandstra

I was surprised when Laura, my oldest child, wanted to take me to lunch. While at our favorite Mexican food restaurant, Laura and I made small talk, visited about the weather and school, and then she asked me how I was doing.

I gave my standard response: “I am fine.”

She was not satisfied with my answer, so she pressed me. I went on to tell her that I had been thinking a lot lately about losing both of my parents in a short period of time. I explained that work had been tough, and I did not feel like I had much control over my life. She seemed content with my response, so I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then she totally changed the subject. She asked if I was investing in anyone in a mentor/discipleship relationship. I told her I was spending time with a couple of guys at Pine Cove and another guy in Dallas. She asked if I was keeping up with some of the dads from Family Camp, and I told her I was.

Tears were brought to my eyes when she said, “I am so proud of you, Dad.” I beamed. My adult daughter was proud of me!

She went on to ask if anyone was investing in me. I mentioned a man, and she asked when I had last met with him. As it turns out, it had been almost 15 months. In a not-so-subtle way she said, “I don’t think that is much of a mentor relationship if you never meet with him. Dad, you cannot truly invest in someone else if no one is investing in you.”

After that statement, she asked me if I remembered an incident from earlier in the summer. “Dad, do you remember the problem we had with our lawn mower earlier this summer, when it quit working and you found all that gunk in the fuel filter?” I told her yes. She then asked if I remembered what the problem was. I said, “Yes, we went to get gas at a local gas station, and as it turns out, we were getting the dregs from the bottom of an empty gas tank.”

She went on, “Dad, you can’t give if your spiritual fuel tank is empty.”

I sat there speechless. She was absolutely correct. In many ways, I was giving those around me the gunk in my spiritual tank.

I thanked her for her wise counsel and then went back to work.

A few days later, I began to pray for who I would ask to mentor me. Two guys came to mind. I called the first, and he responded, “Why would you want to meet with me?”

I thought, Well, if you do not know why I would want to meet with you, then you’re probably not the one I should meet with.

So I called the next guy, and he was very excited to meet.

That was two years ago, and I cannot begin to tell you how much I have grown and how much more effective I have been able to minister to and mentor others.

After realizing my need for a mentor, I quizzed about 100 guys about the subject of mentoring. It was amazing to learn that out of those 100 guys, only 15 had someone investing in them and those 15 were each investing in another person.

Ironically, the Bible tells us to “‘Go therefore and make disciples ...’” (Matthew 28:19a), yet the church leaders, pastors, and camp guys I quizzed were not involved in a discipleship relationship at all.

I asked a deeper question, “Why not?” I expected the issue to be time. Instead, the answer was an unwillingness to be that vulnerable with someone about what was going on in their lives. Additionally, many admitted it was spiritual pride.

All of us should find someone more mature in the Christian life to invest in us and likewise should find someone who is younger in the faith and impact them, too.

Swallow your pride and find someone to help you grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ.

I did—and it was great.

Mario Zandstra is president and CEO of Pine Cove Christian Camps, in Tyler, Texas.
FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family.

Source: http://www.familylife.com/articles/topics/faith/essentials/growing-in-your-faith/i-needed-a-mentor

Monday, November 2, 2015

Has 'Authenticity' Trumped Holiness?

      In recent years, evangelical Christianity has made its imperfection a point of emphasis. Books were published with titles like Messy Spirituality: God's Annoying Love for Imperfect People, Death by Church, and Jesus Wants to Save Christians, and churches popped up with names like Scum of the Earth and Salvage Yard. Evangelicals made films like Lord, Save Us from Your Followers, wrote blog posts with titles like “Dirty, Rotten, Messy Christians,” and maintained websites like anchoredmess.com, modernreject.com, churchmarketingsucks.com, recoveringevangelical.com, and wrecked.org—a site that includes categories like “A Hot Mess,” “Muddling Through,” “My Broken Heart,” and “My Wreckage.”  

Meanwhile, self-deprecating humor sites like Stuff Christians Like and Stuff Christian Culture Likes became hugely popular repositories of Christianity's many warts, and writers like Anne Lamott and Donald Miller became best-selling, “non-religious” expositors of messy spirituality. 

Evangelicalism—both on the individual and institutional level—is trying hard to purge itself of a polished veneer that smacked of hypocrisy. But by focusing on brokenness as proof of our “realness” and “authenticity,” have evangelicals turned “being screwed up” into a badge of honor, its own sort of works righteousness? Has authenticity become a higher calling than, say, holiness?

How Did We Get Here?
Erik Thoennes, professor of biblical and theological studies at Biola University, sees the authenticity trend in the undergrads he teaches. At the beginning of each class he asks his students to write down two things they love and two things they hate. Consistently, one of the things they say they hate is “fake people.” But the Christian life involves a whole lot of “fakin' it” on the path to being integrated, Thoennes says.

“There's this idea that to live out of conformity with how I feel is hypocrisy; but that's a wrong definition of hypocrisy,” Thoennes said. “To live out of conformity to what I believe is hypocrisy. To live in conformity with what I believe, in spite of what I feel, isn't hypocrisy; it's integrity.”

Thoennes hopes his students understand that sanctification involves living in a way that often conflicts with what feels authentic. Still, he gets why younger evangelicals have such a radar for phoniness. They grew up in an evangelical culture that produced more than a few noteworthy cases of fallen leaders and high-profile hypocrisy. Their cynicism reflects a church culture that often hid its imperfections beneath a facade of legalism and self-righteousness.

All of this contributed, in the early and mid-2000s, to an authenticity boom in evangelicalism. Recognition of the biblical calls to confession (James 5:17) and “walking in the light” (1 John 1:5-10) had not gone away in Protestantism; they just became more and more couched in language of being real, raw, transparent, and authentic in community.

Typical of the many articles written about the topic is Josh Riebeck's 2007 piece for Relevant, “Fighting for Authenticity,” which announced that “authentic community, authentic faith, and authentic Jesus are the cry of the new generation.”

“We don't want to be fooled anymore. We don't want to be gullible anymore,” Riebeck wrote. “We want flawed. We want imperfect. We want real.”

But why must “real” be synonymous with flawed and imperfect? When someone opens up about their junk, we think, “you're being real,” and we can relate to them. But what about the pastor who has served faithfully for decades without any scandal, loved his wife and family, and embodied the fruit of the spirit? Is this less real?

When 'Authentic' Is Actually Inauthentic
Often, what passes for authenticity in evangelical Christianity is actually a safe, faux-openness that establishes an environment where vulnerability is embraced, only up to a point.

Becky Trejo, a 20-something photographer from Los Angeles who attends Mars Hill Church's Orange County location alongside her husband, Neph, has observed this trend in some small groups she's attended.
“There's this 'sweet spot' of authenticity,” Trejo said. “Like if you reveal that you struggle with gossip, people are like 'whoopdee!' But then there are some sins you might share where it's like 'whoa, that's too much.' There has to be this middle ground, like 'I'm struggling with wanting to sleep with my boyfriend.' That's the sweet spot where people see you as really vulnerable and authentic, and it's required admission.”
In this dynamic we often reward those who are most vocal about their authentic struggles in the “sweet spot,” without giving equal weight to the “too small” sins or creating a space that is safe enough for the most embarrassing sins or darkest struggles.

This dynamic reflects another problem: our skewed understanding of sin. It's almost as if our sins have become a currency of solidarity—something we pat each other on the back about as fellow authentic, broken people. But sin should always be grieved rather than celebrated, Thoennes argues.

“Brokenness is an interesting word because if it's sin, we should call it that,” Thoennes said. “I only feel sorry for broken people. God's mad at sinful people. Woundedness and brokenness are aspects of our sinful condition, but they tend not to emphasize the 'I'm giving God the finger' part of it.”

We've become too comfortable with our sin, to the point that it's how we identify ourselves and relate to others. But shouldn't we find connection over Christ, rather than over our depravity?

Authenticity Means Growth
Our notion of authenticity should not primarily be about affirming each other in our struggles—patting each other on the back as we share about porn struggles while enjoying a second round of beers at the local pub Bible study. Rather, authenticity comes when we collectively push each other, by grace, in the direction of Christ-likeness.

Reflecting on Christianity's “current obsession with brokenness” for her.meneutics, Megan Hill wrote, “If we are constantly looking for someone else who is broken in all the same places, we overlook the comfort we can have in the perfect God-man.”

Hill wisely notes, “Grace covers. And it covers again and again. Thanks be to God.” But if we stop there, “We are only telling half of the story. . . . Receiving grace for my failures also includes Christ's help to turn from sin and embrace new obedience.”

Could it be that the most authentic thing any of us can do is faithfully pursue holiness and obediently follow after Christ?
In Scripture, Paul teaches again and again that Christians are “dead to sin” and risen to new life, no longer slave to sins but to righteousness (Rom. 6). That doesn't mean the battle with sin is gone. But as Paul describes the struggle in Romans 7, he says “it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me” (Rom. 7:17), noticeably separating his identity from this unwanted alien thing still residing within. The struggle is neither the point nor the marker of one's identity. In Christ we are new creations (2 Cor. 5:17), called to flourish through life in the Spirit (Rom. 8).

“I think goodness is more real in that we are actually living more as humans were intended to,” Thoennes said. “Jesus is the realest human we'll ever see. He's authentic. He understands our brokenness. But he's as real as can be.”

No Authenticity Points
Sin is necessarily part of our story as redeemed people. We shouldn't ignore or make light of it. But we also shouldn't wallow in it or take it lightly, for the sake of earning authenticity points.

As someone who became a Christian in his 20s, after having experienced the rocky ups and downs of a life without Christ, Luis Salazar of Whittier, California, finds it sad that so many young evangelicals seem to think dramatic struggles with sin are more real.

“I would never want to walk through it again,” Salazar said. “I wish I hadn't gone through all that. A lifestyle of flashy sin isn't necessary to experience grace. It's not necessary to have a grand testimony of brokenness in order to be an authentic Christian.”

To overcome our “authenticity” confusion, evangelicals must see themselves differently. Rather than focusing on our brokenness, we should look to Christ and those who model Christ-likeness. We should move in that direction, by grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We should also, perhaps, stop speaking of ourselves in such “we are scum” terms. In Christ, we can be more than scum. And that's a message the world sorely needs.

“While we think self-deprecation causes us to be more relatable and empathetic to non-Christians, it's ultimately communicating a sense of disappointment, disillusionment, and discontentment,” Stephen Mattson wrote for Red Letter Christians. “It thrives on negativity and kills our sense of hope.”

“The reality is that there are many things wrong with Christianity,” Mattson said, “but instead of focusing on the bad, let's attempt to reclaim the hope that Jesus represents—redeeming our world by personifying the sacrifice, service, grace, hope, joy, and love of Christ.”

 Source: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/has-authenticity-trumped-holiness-2

Saturday, September 12, 2015

14 Years After 9/11: Four Lessons

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Friday, September 11, 2015

A montage of eight images depicting, from top to bottom, the World Trade Center towers burning, the collapsed section of the Pentagon, the impact explosion in the south tower, a rescue worker standing in front of rubble of the collapsed towers, an excavator unearthing a smashed jet engine, three frames of video depicting airplane hitting the Pentagon.

Where were you 14 years ago today? Most Americans can answer that question, just as my parents could for Pearl Harbor. It's often said that 9/11 changed the world. In a very real sense that's true. 

On September 11, 2001, nineteen terrorists murdered 2,977 Americans. According to Brown University's Watson Institute, warfare in the years since has killed 13,816 U.S. military personnel and contractors. The civilian death count in Iraq and Afghanistan stands between 184,500 and 212,500. The "War on Terror" has cost Americans more than $4.4 trillion. Imagine the impact that expenditure could make on hunger or education. 

In another sense, however, 9/11 revealed a war that has been waged against the U.S. for decades. On November 4, 1979, radical Muslims took fifty-two American citizens hostage in Iran. In the years since, jihadists have attacked our embassies in Beirut, Kuwait, Kenya, Tanzania, Lima, Kurachi, and Libya. They attacked the World Trade Center in 1993, the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, and the Boston Marathon in 2013. Their numbers and global reach are greater than ever before.

Now the self-proclaimed Islamic State has captured land the size of Great Britain, claims greater than $2 billion in assets, generates $2 million per week in oil revenues, and boasts a fighting force of up to 100,000 soldiers. They have more than 35 global affiliates, and intend to conquer Europe and then America. ISIS spokesman Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani: "We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women. If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market."

What lessons have we learned in the years since 9/11?

One: The Department of Homeland Security cannot secure the homeland. It is just too easy to enter a country whose borders exceed 5,830 miles, not to mention terrorists such as the Boston Marathon bombers who are already here. Mass shootings in schools, shopping malls and movie theaters prove that we can never be truly safe on this fallen planet.

Two: This is the war of our lifetime. Unlike conventional wars with leaders who could surrender to us, this enemy has no single head. So long as one jihadist is left, the threat is not over. Henry Kissinger noted, "The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose."

Three: Fearing terrorism is just what the terrorists want. We need to take all appropriate measures to secure ourselves and our families, then live with courage and passion. Claim this promise: "God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control" (2 Timothy 1:7). Trust your fears to God in faith.

Four: This is a spiritual war. Our enemy is motivated by religious aims and has been deceived by the evil one. The gospel is the true answer to radical Islam. The spiritual awakening sweeping the Muslim world is our greatest hope. Praying for ISIS leaders and other jihadists is the church's greatest responsibility.

On the Sunday after 9/11, I preached from Psalm 46. Its first assertion is our Father's assurance on this somber day: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (v. 1). But a refuge can shelter only those who trust its protection. 

Would God say he is your refuge today?

Original Source: http://www.christianheadlines.com/columnists/denison-forum/14-years-after-9-11-four-lessons.html

Photo courtesy: en.wikipedia.org

Publication date: September 11, 2015